Black Meetings and Tourism

July/August 2014

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B M & T ••• July/August 2014 ••• 29 simply don't hear much about them unless confronted with a discrimination lawsuit or some cosmic event. The posi- tive effects, or lack thereof are not wide- ly reported or monitored closely by out- side groups. Lodging isn't the only entity within our industry that lacks vigilant over- sight. As far as we know at Black Meetings and Tourism, only three desti- nations in the United States have agen- cies within their convention and visitor's bureaus devoted to the ethnic market- place. Let's give a round of applause to New Orleans and the Greater New Orleans Multicultural Tourism Network, Philadelphia and PHLDiversity (former- ly Multicultural Affairs Congress) and the Oregon Convention and Visitors Services Network. All three programs have proven a rousing success. For those without concrete diversity programs, the template is right under your nose. The goal of all three organizations is to increase their share of the meetings and tourism markets. But that's not all. These destinations have long established relationships with minority owned ven- dors and suppliers, many of whom actual- ly participate in the RFP process. Now before we get too far down the road, let's make this abundantly clear, there are several destinations such as Atlanta, while they might not have a specific, well-publicized division devot- ed to ethnic markets, their ability to incorporate diversity into their standard business practices makes them a model for anyone truly interested in progress. But places like Atlanta are the excep- tion. We shouldn't be fooled into think- ing some destinations don't need a spe- cific diversity program, because more than likely you do. Diversity is hard, but necessary work if this country is ever to fulfill its promise of equality. What makes these agencies and des- tinations work? Well, for starters, other than Oregon, they all have sizeable African-American populations woven into the fabric of the city. In Portland, they have a dynamic leader in Roy Jay, president of the Oregon Convention and Service Network. Why push diversity so much? Let me rephrase, why should "we" push harder for diversity? Let's forget for a moment about putting the onus for diversity on the dominant cul- ture in our socie- ty. Let's look within. How about economic pros- perity? If you're one of the minority vendors working in Atlanta, New Orleans, Philadelphia or Portland, the ability to bid and win con- tracts means economic freedom. We've all heard stories of the crime problems in Chicago. Let's remember, during the Great Migration, Chicago was intention- ally segregated along racial lines leaving those on the Southside essentially lack- ing in all the economic opportunity the rest of the city enjoyed. This segregation was repeated throughout most northern cities. We can combat these problems through eco- nomic opportunity. Now is not the time for an overdose of gradualism Dr. King referred to, but seize the opportunity to build better communities. Allow those dollars to circulate and build other busi- ness. Send your kids to college. Build better schools. Tear down substandard housing. We seem to settle when we should be pushing ahead. The rust-belt city of Cleveland was in the throes of economic chaos even before the Great Recession. Today, the city is enjoying a magnificent renaissance. Cleveland's income has jumped 4.1 per- cent from 2009 to 2010 compared with prerecession years 1993-2007. That's mil- lions of dollars in new city revenues. Diversity is largely credited with driv- ing the city's economic boom. A coali- tion of diversity management leaders led by the Greater Cleveland Partnership developed a plan back in 2000 to bring wealth to economically underserved communities. It's an all- volunteer program called the Commission on Economic Inclusion. Over 100 northeast Ohio employers par- ticipate in the program designed to make diversity a source of strength. Their three objectives are: to grow supplier diversity through access to cap- ital, workshops and a business match- making program that has already secured 54 deals worth $131.6 billion according to a report in DiversityInc. Second, is workforce recruitment to increase access to well-paying jobs; and lastly is retention and leadership devel- opment. The result, African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and other underrepre- sented groups participated in projects such as the construction of the 100,000 sq. ft. Cleveland Medical Mart, now known as the Global Center for Health Innovation. The adjoining new 225,000-sq. ft. Cleveland Convention Center also involved heavy minority representation in its construction and management. The scope of Cleveland's diversity pro- gram is too expansive to discuss here, but it's comprehensive and proven. Success stories like Cleveland's diversity program foster greater oppor- tunities for all and does wonders to the self-esteem of a community. Cleve- land's success hasn't gone unnoticed. In addition to the numerous health confer- ences held in the city, the GOP recently announced the 2016 Republican National Convention would be held on the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland. It's amazing what can happen with commitment, which brings me back to travel and tourism. We are an industry responsible for one in nine of all American jobs. Our economic impact puts tens of billions of dollars into local economies and government coffers. Certainly an industry the size of travel and tourism can, and must do a better job of promot- ing diversi- ty, but we s h o u l d n ' t expect the industry to p u r s u e i n c l u s i o n without a g e n t l e nudge or a hard push of the pen- dulum from us. BY MICHAEL BENNETT ROY JAY

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